2010 New Year’s Resolutions: Project Management/PMO

Along with the holiday festivities, the last half of December turns everyone’s thoughts to New Year’s Resolutions. If you adopted any of our project management resolution suggestions from last year, please leave a comment and let us know how that worked out for you. And, if you haven’t taken our survey about project success, please do. It will take you only 5 minutes, and we’re looking for both IT and business perspectives.

For 2010, we’re expanding the scope of our resolutions to include a few PMO resolutions as well. (Don’t worry, we’ve filed a change control request and had it approved by the proper authorities!) We approached 2009’s resolutions with an eye toward cost reduction, based on a grim IT budget outlook. 2010 looks like it will not see further cuts, with most companies either keeping budgets in line with prior year, or boosting IT spending by a modest 4-6%.

In this budget context, it’s still wise to consider ways to work smarter, not harder, and tighten up the alignment of all of your projects with the overall strategy of the business, realizing that the strategy often changes over time.

So, without further ado, here are our 2010 Project Management/PMO resolutions:

1. Writing up your meeting minutes is not as critical as limiting the minutes your team spends in meetings. Don’t get me wrong: published meeting notes are important, and they should still be distributed within 24 hours of each working meeting.  The following mental exercise will bring home the importance of running tight, efficient meetings:

1. Count the number of meeting attendees.

2. Multiply by the length of the meeting in hours.

3. Multiply by the number of meeting occurrences over the project lifespan.

4. Multiply by a fully burdened hourly rate.

A weekly internal status meeting for a year-long project could be adding significant cost to your project. Limit your agenda to the essentials: It’s not so important to review what everyone has done or what went well. Use the meeting time for resolving issues and managing exceptions.

2. Revisit the charter for your PMO and make sure it serves the business, and does not ask the business to serve the PMO. PMOs that exist to enforce consistency and police compliance with a methodology often end up slowing down project execution instead of enabling project success. Standardize project plan templates at the highest level necessary for tracking milestones across projects, and let individual project managers develop work breakdown structures within that framework, to a level that suits the needs of individual projects.

3. Develop a less adversarial attitude toward change. Much is written about scope creep and change control in project management circles. There may be a tendency to take too hard a line toward change. The reality is that business conditions, needs, and strategy may well change over the lifespan of many projects.

Let’s move our definition of project success away from the old metrics of “on time and within budget” toward more realistic measures of business success. Some more appropriate ways to judge success of a project include:

  • Did the project fulfill the objectives, as defined in the original project charter (if you don’t do project charters or business cases, add that to thei list of resolutions) and all subsequent change requests?
  • Are end-users satisfied that their requirements have been implemented, and can they easily perform their daily tasks using the new system?
  • Some metrics are specific to the type of project, such as:
    • For business intelligence projects: Has this project enabled the business to make better and quicker business decisions by putting better data and drilldown capability into their hands?
    • For projects that install new transactional systems: Have we improved overall efficiency and accuracy of critical business transactions?

4. Develop an efficient framework for project triage. Not every project needs the same level of support. Some projects need to be suspended or rescoped as business needs change. Regular project triage is a best practice that helps organizations make sure they are keeping IT budgets aligned with business needs. Make a commitment to quarterly triage in 2010. Incidentally, if you haven’t taken our project triage survey, we would value your input in this area.

5. Re-order the priorities of your project managers. Make sure that they understand that their most important responsibility is maintaining a healthy working relationship with the business. Tracking status, updating the plan, and managing the tech team are not the key enablers of project success.  The most valuable skills to strengthen in your PM staff  are related to communication, conflict resolution, consensus building, and salesmanship (they will often have to “sell” reluctant stakeholders on compromise solutions).

New Year’s resolutions are really just an attempt to institutionalize a project management best practice that should become standard operating procedure throughout the year: periodically re-examine your approach and commit to continuous improvement efforts. That’s the real secret to successfully building a high-performance project management office within your organization.

How often do you perform project triage?

A quick google search shows that the medical concept of triage is commonly applied to evaluating IT projects and other major business initiatives. pm_thumbnail

The concept of triage comes from medicine, and in particular medical treatment under difficult circumstances—war, epidemic, disaster—where the number of people needing treatment exceeds the resources available. In such situations, the sick or injured are typically assigned to one of three groups.

 In the business context, it usually means allocating scarce cash and human capital under difficult economic conditions, when the number of ongoing projects exceeds the level available resources.

Project Triage Framework

In the current economic climate, it probably makes sense to perform a mini-triage of your project portfolio quarterly, with an annual triage as the last fiscal quarter approaches.  In addition, you may be faced with the need to triage in emergency situations such as a sudden shift in business strategy, in the face of a new acquisition, or when presented with an across the board budget cut. Periodic review is a cornerstone of an effective project portfolio management strategy. This regular triage can be a valuable form of project insurance. Preventative medicine is always less costly than crisis treatment.

Your triage team should include your senior IT management as well as functional business leadership. Performing project triage is easiest if there is regular, reliable status reporting from the project teams, on their milestone and budget status.

Triage is also easier if your project initiation process includes a business case that assigns a business criticality score to the project. It’s entirely possible that business criticality of a given project might change over the course of the project’s lifecycle, and a master project status tracking document helps the triage team keep track of this.

After reviewing the health of individual projects and their alignment with current business needs, triage will place them into three groups which align perfectly with the medical definition of triage:

1. Persons who are likely to live even if they don’t receive immediate treatment—projects going well that need no additional intervention

2. Persons who are likely to die even if they do receive immediate treatment– projects that you should suspend NOW before they chew up additional resources

3. Persons who are like to live only if they receive immediate treatment– projects that need you to perform an immediate intervention

Our next blog post will cover specific diagnostic tests you must perform on projects that fall into the third group. In the meantime, let us know your apporach to project triage by answering this poll:

How often do you perform project triage?

Practical Project Management

practicalityIn times like this every PMP needs a healthy dose of a new and improved PMP, that is, project management practicality. As the recession lingers, those of us who drive the success of projects, programs, and any corporate initiative are going to have to find new ways of doing more with less.  Here are seven practical tips for cutting corners without sacrificing project success.

1. Curtail time-consuming interviews for requirements-gathering. There are several easy ways to cut the effort required to gather information from subject matter experts:

  • Group them by functional area (when appropriate) and avoid interviewing single stakeholders.
  • Use structured information gathering templates and require that they take a pass through them and begin filling in the required information before the meeting. The keyword here is structured. I prefer Excel templates with restricted ranges of responses, rigidly enforced with data validation limiting those responses to list.  STructure the information you need into columns, apply data validation, and put explanatory notes as a cell comment in the column headers.

2. Make your meetings more productive.

  • Know your goals. Have an agenda and be ruthless about sticking to it.
  • Limit the attendees to those people with decision-making authority
    and real subject matter expertise. Bigger meetings cost more and waste more time.
  • Appoint a live note-taker. The note-taker should type the notes live during the meeting and send them out before the end of the day. Transcribing from written notes is wasted effort.

3. Restructure your project team. Combine roles and responsibilities, because fewer roles mean fewer handoffs. It’s better to have a smaller team running above 100% utilization than a larger team at or under 100% utilization.

4. Carefully define the scope of your analysis/requirements gathering effort. Don’t waste time documenting standard business processes in excessive detail; concentrate on the areas that have unique and/or critical requirements.

5. Hold the line on customizations. They add cost to the current project, and will complicate upgrade and migration projects down the road.

6. Request a mini-business case for custom reports. Every custom report should have a place in the spec that describes the business action that the report enables, as well as a list of alternative sources for the requested information if the custom report is not available. This will help the project sponsor make an informed decision when approving the custom report request.

7. Make project status more transparent. To reiterate an earlier post on PMOs: A well-defined, user-friendly, and well-maintained project portal site can cut down on the need for lengthy status meetings. Milestone status, next week’s key tasks, and open action items can be posted to the portal site. A weekly meeting can be used for exception-based reporting on lagging milestones and critical issues, allowing the project sponsor and key stakeholders to participate in resolution during the meeting.